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Concertina player wins Cowboy Idol contest in Kenton OH


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Yes, a concertina player, me, won a Western singing competition.

 

I didn't realize that Gene Autry Days had added a music competition this year, but since my motto is "Have concertina, will travel" I worked up a medley of four traditional cowboy songs (Red River Valley, I Ride an Old Paint, The Lament, and Bonny Black Bess) and went to enter. They wanted a CD. I didn't have a CD, but talked them into letting me enter anyway. It comes time for the competition, and I get a look at my competition, three young ladies between the ages of twelve and seventeen. What chance does a fifty year old man have, eh? I'm thinking the Quebe Sisters (a trio of sisters who do traditional Texas style fiddling.) The first young lady goes up, no guitar, no fiddle, not even a ukulele. She takes the mike and the sound man starts up a music track and the young lady sings a modern country song. Now I know what the CD request was for. The twelve year old goes up to sing, then the fifteen year old, same procedure. Now it's my turn. We have to set up to mikes. We're getting feed back. We have trouble getting the mike to pick up the concertina. We finally get the sound issues worked out, and I start to play. I introduce what I am playing including the comment, "All right, now we are moving from the twenty first century to the nineteenth." Of course, I screw up a few times, never mind that I had just did it perfectly earlier when I practiced. I figured I didn't stand a chance. I made the joke while we waited for the judges that I thought I would be competing against other grizzled old cowboys. Finally, the judges came back. Come to find out there two divisions to this contest, youth and grizzled old cowboys. I won the grizzled old cowboy division. I won twenty five dollars, which was two more dollars than I spent on Robin's and my admission and our lunch on the grounds. So now, I am your cowboy idol. It was also pointed out to me that I was the only contestant that actually played any cowboy songs.

 

Another thing you folks might find interesting, I was not the only concertina player at the event. One of the professional groups playing, Call of the West, has a concertina player. The concertina is not the only instrument Jeanne Cahill plays, but she did do a few numbers on the concertina, as well as playing the guitar and the steel guitar.

.

Alan Dormire, your Cowboy Idol

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That is awesome! Glad you got to get out there and represent. Do you have any YouTube clips of your arrangements of those songs, or at least a description of how you mix playing and singing? Do you mainly do some basic chording to sing over, or something fancy?

 

It is sad though to hear that canned music is common at such an event, and that they don't bother to make the kids sing traditional cowboy songs instead of modern country. Anachronism is a funny thing: I figure in a few centuries all our current eras will be so conflated together in the popular conception that they'll unironically have troops in World War II movies singing songs by Led Zeppelin for lack of proper musicological research...

 

 

Speaking of anachronism: do we have much evidence of cowboys playing concertina? Dan Worral's Social History of the Anglo Concertina doesn't say much about that specifically, though apparently some of the late-1800s pioneers did play, as did many folks in the Midwest (Anglo, not Chemnitzer) in that period. I wouldn't find cowboy concertina to be any less credible, and probably more so, than the "sailor with concertina" popular conception, but I am curious how much concrete evidence we have of cowboys playing Anglo.

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Congratulations, Alan.

 

The only one of those songs I know is Red River Valley; it is one of my favorites.

 

I imagine you know two of the others. Old Paint was a common enough song that you have probably heard it. The Lament is commonly known outside of cowboy culture as The Streets of Laredo, The Cowboy's Lament, or TomSherman's Barroom. Bonnie Black Bess is an old Scottish tune that was popular with cowboys as it was a song about a highwayman's horse.

 

Alan

Edited by asdormire
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Well done and congratulations. You didn't describe any of the other grizzled old cowboys who entered.

 

I was the only grizzled old cowboy entered, the other three contestants were blonde teenage girls. The winner of that division was the seventeen year old from Lima OH. Yes, Glee fans, there really is a Lima Oh. Actually, there is a Westerville OH as well, I work there, but they are no where near as close as the TV show make them out to be. Anyway, this young lady has been hitting a lot of these small singing competitions in Northwest Ohio, and supposedly doing quite well. It was the first time entering a singing competition for the other two young ladies who were both Hardin County residents. Kenton is the county seat of Hardin County. Originally, it was to be a single contest, but the event committee thought it would be more fair to break it up into adult and youth categories, especially with me playing my own accompaniment and the young ladies using pre-recorded tracks.

 

Alan

 

I am starting to get frustrated with the iPad. Sometimes it decides it knows which word I want.

Edited by asdormire
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That is awesome! Glad you got to get out there and represent. Do you have any YouTube clips of your arrangements of those songs, or at least a description of how you mix playing and singing? Do you mainly do some basic chording to sing over, or something fancy?

 

It is sad though to hear that canned music is common at such an event, and that they don't bother to make the kids sing traditional cowboy songs instead of modern country. Anachronism is a funny thing: I figure in a few centuries all our current eras will be so conflated together in the popular conception that they'll unironically have troops in World War II movies singing songs by Led Zeppelin for lack of proper musicological research...

 

 

Speaking of anachronism: do we have much evidence of cowboys playing concertina? Dan Worral's Social History of the Anglo Concertina doesn't say much about that specifically, though apparently some of the late-1800s pioneers did play, as did many folks in the Midwest (Anglo, not Chemnitzer) in that period. I wouldn't find cowboy concertina to be any less credible, and probably more so, than the "sailor with concertina" popular conception, but I am curious how much concrete evidence we have of cowboys playing Anglo.

 

No youTube clips, sorry. As to how I played, I know the melody for all four songs by heart. I played Red River Valley through twice with no singing, then I played the melody alone followed by a combination of the melody with me singing the first verse for the next three songs. Remember that I put this together at the last moment. One of the judges asked why I did it that way, as playing the lead while singing is very hard, and I had to admit I didn't know the chordings.

 

As to canned music, It was explained to me that it is extremely common now days at these types of events

 

Finally, yes there is evidence of cowboys playing the concertina. I know of at least two instruments that made the ride from Texas to Montana when the herds were brought north for example. They were small, convenient and easily fit under the bunk in the bunk wagon.

 

Alan

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The late great Peter Bellamy used to play "Santa Fe Trail" from the Alan Lomax collection, and when performing it live he added a typically epic intro about concertinas being part of the old west, and since many of the cowboys were immigrants from the UK, he claimed that the audience was hearing the most authentic possible version of "Santa Fe Trail" with English accent and concertina!

 

Gary

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Peter is one of my influences, and he was quite a scholar. I think we don't think of the concertina as a western instrument for a couple of reasons. The first is that it just lost popularity in the first part of the twentieth century. The other is the singing cowboy tradition of the movies. Yet, I know it was a popular instrument during what we think of as the settlement of the west.

 

Alan

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Well I have an old Anglo here in NZ that came in a bespoke satchel. The strap is very short. At first I thought it was a child's but then I saw pictures of old cavalrymen with their kit and the penny dropped that it was probably made to ride between your shoulder blades. designed for horseback use.

 

All right, not a cowboys but still people riding the wide open spaces shooing livestock about.

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Bravo to the OP!

 

Suggestion: How about a collection of dots for good cowboy concertina tunes? Here are a few titles to start you out. Move the collection to the right forum though!

 

Colorado Trail

Red River Valley

I Ride and Old Paint

Bury me Not on the Lone Prairie

Streets of Lerado (I suspect that is what the OP called "The Lament")

the original tune to Yellow Rose of Texas

Timber Trail (might be in copyright by Sons of the Pioneers)

 

There are more.....

 

If someone starts the collection in the tunes forum I'm willing to add those I can.

Edited by cboody
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Well I have an old Anglo here in NZ that came in a bespoke satchel. The strap is very short. At first I thought it was a child's but then I saw pictures of old cavalrymen with their kit and the penny dropped that it was probably made to ride between your shoulder blades. designed for horseback use.

 

All right, not a cowboys but still people riding the wide open spaces shooing livestock about.

 

That seems a bit uncomfortable. Still, it's smaller than a melodeon. But, "shooing livestock about" is just too much for an anglo player in California. I don't know what our local live stock persons (people?) do. Maybe they beat on them with guitars.

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http://www.adventuresinmusic.biz/Archives/Adventures_in_Music/Cowboy_Songs.htm

 

This article says that cowboys sang, and played harmonicas and "small concertinas" continuously to keep the herds quiet at night.

 

It goes on to point out how they adapted a variety of music like Irish jigs to the gait of a slow walking horse. I don't think I'll try that as I'm worse on a horse than a concertina.

 

It fits with the period, as I noted that an impromptu band set up by some early Saskatchewan pioneers included a concertina.

 

My guess is that these folks needed instruments that were small, not too fussy, and easily portable, which made the concertina a good candidate.

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